Escapee

Friday, February 22, 2013

Question

I am really clear that I'm a gay man. I'm 27 and I've been out since I was 16. My family is extremely religious. Growing up, I often heard that being “a homosexual” is the equivalent of being a murderer. Adultery, abortion, masturbation, taking God's name in vain, and premarital sex also fall into that category. I still shudder when I hear the word “homosexual.” I have very little contact with them today because they are abusive to me. I had to leave home at a very early age or I honestly believe I would have killed myself. I couldn't take one more sermon about how people like me are going to burn in hell forever, and how much God hates me.

          How long does it take to get rid of all that conditioning? It seems like every time something bad happens to me, I blame the fact that I am gay. After sex, I frequently feel depressed. Partners often tell me to “relax” or “loosen up,” and I am tired of feeling like other men enjoy freedom that I lack.

          It is really tempting to drink or get high so that I can lose my damned inhibitions. But I've made a fool of myself a couple of times, and I got scared about having sex without condoms. I recently learned that my father is an alcoholic, a big family secret that warns me I might have a genetic predisposition to be an addict. There has to be a better way, something better for me than crystal meth or Prozac.

          From reading your books, I know that you grew up in a Mormon family. It seems like you are a completely different person than the one your parents thought they were raising. How did you do it? And, more importantly, how can I close the door on the past and really accept myself? Rationally, I know there is nothing wrong with being gay, and that I can still be a good person and have a great life. I've moved to a big city with a strong community so I don't lack for friends and support. But this persistent guilt won't go away. Help! It won't listen to my safe word

Answer

           Many gay people face a lifelong struggle against hateful messages they heard from their families. When the people who are supposed to love you no matter what instead try to shame and condemn you, it's traumatic! But of course you don't want to just shrug and say, “Oh, well, I guess this is the best I can do.” You want a better quality of life, and I hope we can find a way to help you toward that goal.

          Two things occur to me. One is that you may be suffering from underlying depression. When you said you had a choice between crystal meth and Prozac, that may not have been a joke. How often do you feel that you are worthless or that life is not worth the battle to keep going? If these feelings are frequent or intense, you should get evaluated for depression. A combination of medication and therapy has been shown to be the best way for most people to get help with this issue.

          The second thing I want to consider is the spiritual dimension of your life. It would be easier to discount prejudice based on human “science” or politics. Human beings are fallible. But when the ultimate authority cited is divine, how can you argue with that? You usually can't unless you have your own spiritual authority, one that affirms you instead of singling you out for eternal damnation.

          Most LGBT people who grew up in right-wing, fundamentalist homes have no interest in religion once they escape. But spirituality is an important human need. It answers deep questions about why we are here, how we should live, and what our larger purpose might be. It gives you a way to answer the question, “Am I a good person or not?” 

          Any city large enough to have a gay community will also have a Metropolitan Community Church, a nondenominational Christian church founded to serve the gay community. If you no longer believe in Christian theology, you can turn to gay Buddhist groups, support groups for the gay former members of several denominations, etc. If you feel committed to agnostic or atheist belief systems, you still need to answer the questions that I posed above. I hope you will not decide that life has no meaning, it doesn't matter how you treat yourself or other people, and once we die, that's it; the show's closed. If nothing else, we are responsible for the world we had over to the next generation. Many people who have no spiritual beliefs have infused their lives with a deeper purpose and meaning by acting as stewards for the future, doing volunteer work or political activism that will make things easier for others.

          A counselor who is educated about the mental-health needs of LGBT people could provide ongoing support in your quest for meaning and happiness. Because someone who meets regularly with you would get to know you much better than I can, he or she could also probably give you even more avenues to explore as you seek liberation from the burdens of the past.

 

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